Queer students endured harassment and harsh punishments at Oregon public school
NORTH BEND, Ore. – The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon announced today that settlements had been reached on behalf of current and former North Bend High School students Liv Funk and Hailey Smith, who suffered anti-LGBTQ harassment and discrimination from both students and staff. The settlements remove Principal Bill Lucero from his job and require that the school district work with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon (ACLU of Oregon) to develop policies and training to prevent future discrimination. The district will remain under Oregon Department of Education supervision for five years.
“This is a tremendous achievement for our clients and all the current and future students of North Bend,” said Mat dos Santos, legal director at the ACLU of Oregon. “It sends a clear message to everyone at the district: If you break the law by discriminating against LGBTQ students or engaging in religious proselytization at school, there are serious consequences.”
Smith and Funk said the school was extremely hostile to LGBTQ students. Principal Lucero repeatedly failed to respond to LGBTQ students’ complaints, including when his son, who also attends the school, nearly hit the couple with his car while yelling a homophobic slur. According to an investigatory determination letter from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), when some staff tried to support the students’ attempts to raise their concerns, district and high school leadership retaliated. Lucero also made students recite Bible verses as punishment, a fact that ODE confirmed was known by Superintendent Bill Yester.
“With Mr. Lucero gone, LGBTQ students can finally come out of the shadows.” dos Santos said. “It’s past time that North Bend High School make way for a more open and accepting administration.”
“I think there are a lot of teachers, staff, and community members in North Bend who do support LGBTQ students,” Smith said. “Under a more supportive school administration, I hope they will no longer be afraid to show their support.”
The school district is also required to ask North Bend Police Department to remove or provide a new police officer to function as the school police officer. The current school police officer, Jason Griggs, told Funk that she was going to hell for being gay after she reported an anti-LGBT assault across the street from the school.
“I am glad that I was finally able to start positive change in this school district,” said Funk, who is graduating next month. “All I want is a safe learning environment for current and incoming students from any and all walks of life.”
The students filed their original complaint with the district in 2016. When the school district failed to respond to the students’ formal complaints, the students appealed to the ODE. Earlier this year, the agency conducted a months-long investigation and found evidence of severe bullying at the school that was ignored by administrators and other violations of state and federal laws. In letters to the district earlier this month, the ODE mentioned instances where a teacher equated same-sex marriage with bestiality and a transgender student was harassed in school common areas, including having food thrown on them.
“To us this all seemed normal,” Smith said. “Like, this is just my life. I didn’t even really want to go to school anymore because I knew something would happen every day.”
After the story drew national attention, dos Santos said numerous former and current students, parents, and staff contacted the ACLU of Oregon with disturbing allegations against the school. A transgender boy was refused permission to play on the boys’ basketball team. One black student was forced to line up with his swim teammates from lightest to darkest skin color. Another black student was regularly subjected to racist slurs and name calling by his teammates, including the principal’s son, over his repeated requests that they stop using a modification to the n-word as his nickname. An exchange student from Spain was awarded the “Best Mexican” award by the swim team.
The district will be required to hire an expert to review their policies for handling discrimination and harassment reports. Additionally, the high school will create a “Diversity and Inclusion Committee” which will hold celebrations at the high school for Coming Out Day, Ally Week, and issue an annual diversity award.
Smith and Funk did not request monetary damages, but did include that the school would make a $1,000 gift to a local queer support group, Q & A of Coos County.
“I hope this can also bring awareness to these types of issues and can show students that they are not powerless,” Funk said.
Mat dos Santos and Kelly Simon represented the students on behalf of the ACLU of Oregon. Professor Warren Binford runs the student legal clinic at Willamette University College of Law and supervised Corrine Allain and Patricia Stoneroad, certified law students on the case.
Photos of the students are available online.